The Elusive, Inspirational Soul – by S.E. Lindberg

Please welcome guest author S.E. Lindberg to the blog this week!

For most artists, including writers, the act of creating attempts to capture and share some emotion, or conversely, evoke an emotional response from an audience. Often, we draw inspiration from our past experiences, traumatic or enjoyable, to deepen the impact. As a scientist, I find the entire transaction of emotions oddly inspirational and terrifying. Feelings are ubiquitous, but cannot be measured objectively; they do not seem to adhere to any law of conservation like energy or mass obey (is there any limit to sorrow or joy?).

Could we better our craft if we knew how emotions flowed from an object (fine art or prose) to a person (or vice versa)? Let us examine the sources and sinks of emotion: our souls. In playful art, this is quite easy to simulate; heck, consider the soul-currency for crafting in From Software’s Dark Souls videogame series—if only we could see as the undead do! In real life, studying the soul is harder.

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Many ‘Renaissance Men’ were inspired to find the soul while the art of anatomy flourished. The prevailing Church did not permit the dissection of innocent believers, so criminals or ‘sinners’ were often studied. Bodies were considered divinely sacred and were thus difficult to obtain; acceptable corpses could not be refrigerated, so one had to work fast. Nor were there cameras or video to capture the observations, so artists and alchemists convened in the dissection theaters to document the microcosms of life.  Leonardo Da Vinci provided detailed notes along with his drawings (from The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics, 1998):

 "I have dissected more than ten human bodies, destroying all the various members and removing the minutest particles of flesh which surrounded these veins, without causing any effusion of blood other than the imperceptible bleeding of the capillary veins. And as one single body did not suffice for so long a time, it was necessary to proceed in stages with so many bodies as would render my knowledge complete; this I repeated twice in order to discover the differences. And though you should have a love for such things you may perhaps be deterred by natural repugnance, and if this does not prevent you, you may perhaps be deterred by fear of passing the night hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to behold; and if this does not deter you, then perhaps you may lack the skill in drawing, essential for such representation..." p151

 Da Vinci determined that the senses were linked to a ‘common sense’ that led to the brain. But no actual soul was discovered. He yielded the goal of managing the soul to religion.  Below, from his treatise on painting, he spoke how the artist must deal with this and impart the soul into its subjects otherwise: 

"A good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the later hard because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs.” p178 

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Anatomical artists had to grapple with documenting macabre scenes of opened bodies while remaining 'artistic'.  For the dignity of the specimens and to satisfy the surgeons' needs, artists often found harmony by posing their subjects. Perhaps most famous are Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina (1491), Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), and Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks (1500). The contemporary Bodies: The Exhibition continues this controversial tradition of displaying the dead artistically.

 With the most promising connection to our souls being the senses, it follows that the next great promise of discovery came when optical technology allowed scientists to see new worlds. Pioneering microscopists had to draw their observations. In 1664, Robert Hooke published a large treatise entitled Micrographia or Some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies, containing an encyclopedia of detailed drawings of his microscopic views. In his preface, he explains to the reader that optics have enabled a spiritual quest: 

“… by the help of microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible world discovered to the understanding.  By this means the heavens are opened, and a vast number of new stars, and new motions, and new productions appear in them, to which all the ancient astronomers were utterly strangers.”

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The soul has never found, however.  Despite ‘the opening of heaven’ with microscopes, the soul still eludes us.

 Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919) was another famous artist-scientist fascinated with the aesthetics of nature and the elusiveness of the soul. His 1904 set of lithographs Art Forms in Nature brilliantly exhibit his obsession with the symmetrical beauty of biological microstructures, and his extensions into comparative embryology brought him controversy. He argued this in his support of his own monistic religion that scientific adventures continually uncovered the beautiful designs inherent in nature (monism generally supports that ‘body and soul’ are one connected entity, not separate as many dualistic religions profess): 

“The remarkable expansion of our knowledge of nature, and the discovery of countless beautiful forms of life, which it includes, have awakened quite a new aesthetic sense in our generation, and thus given a new tone to painting and sculpture. Numerous scientific voyages and expeditions for the exploration of unknown lands and seas, partly in earlier centuries, but more especially in the nineteenth, have brought to light an undreamed abundance of new organic forms... affording an entirely new inspiration for painting, sculpture, architecture, and technical art.”

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In 1900, Haeckel published his scientific, spiritual book Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century in which he explains his monistic philosophies.  He shares elegant philosophy on the soul's lack of participation in the "Laws of Substance" (conservation of mass and energy); below, he discusses how many related the nonexistent soul to that which is tangible:

“Thus invisibility comes to be regarded as a most important attribute of the soul.  Some, in fact, compare the soul with ether, and regard it, like ether, as an extremely subtle, light, and highly elastic material, an imponderable agency, that fills the intervals between the ponderable particles in the living organism, other compare the soul with the wind, and so give it a gaseous nature; and it is this simile which first found favor with the primitive peoples, and led in time to the familiar dualistic conception.  When a man died, the body remained as a lifeless corpse, but the immortal soul ‘flew out of it with the last breath.’”

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 Indeed, the many myths of preserving a dead man’s soul, or gaining its powers, is pervasive. The notion of relics is common across cultures and time. It assumes that the soul is a contagion remaining attached to the body postmortem. Hence, the power of a Saint could be absorbed if one obtained his or her bones; this gave rise to the theft and desecration of many crypts and catacombs. Many crypts remain with the bodily relics on display. The crypt of Saint Munditia of Munich and the Vienna Imperial Crypts are fine examples. Other famous examples include the shrines of Capuchin monks in Rome and Palermo, Sicily (>6,000 bodies) and the Kostnice 'Church of Bones, Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary, Prague (~40,000 remains).

Alas, we cannot study the soul directly yet, but the journey is inspirational. H.P. Lovecraft summarized our human condition best in his opening to “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, 1928):

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age…”


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S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist, employing scientific and artistic skills to understand the manufacturing of products analogous to medieval paints. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for dark fantasy, spurs him to write graphic adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors (primarily under the banner “Dyscrasia Fiction”). With Perseid Press, he writes weird tales infused with history and alchemy (Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Pirates in Hell). He co-moderates the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads.com, and invites all to participate, and regularly interviews authors on the topic of Beauty in Weird Fiction.








 

Alethea Kontis on Imposter Syndrome

Please welcome Alethea Kontis, bestselling author, princess, and all around awesome person (the tagline on her website is "optimism is the true resistance"), to Once and Future, where she offers us some wise words on that dreaded beast, Imposter Syndrome.

Earlier this year, I met the only student Katy Kellgren ever had. He told me he just about had to bully her into being his teacher. This amazing, multiple award-winning voice actress with hundreds of audiobooks under her belt truly didn’t believe she knew anything that anyone would want to learn. 

And yet, I totally understand why. Because I felt exactly the same way. 

As writers, we tell everyone that “Impostor Syndrome” never goes away. It’s true, in a sense. The more we work, the more we learn to recognize it when it pops up—and then we tell it to go away. I mean heck, I winged my fairy tale talk at the Library of Congress. Sure, I wrote up an outline and jotted down a few notes, but fairy tales are something I’ve studied my whole life and genuinely love to talk about. The “OMG WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT?? THIS IS THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!” didn’t hit me until about 3/4 of the way into my talk…and by then it was time for questions. 

Where that Impostor bugger really loves to rear its ugly head is when you’re starting something new and different. Who are you to think that anyone will follow you down this path your forging? Sure, you’ll make it to the top of that mountain, but what if you turn around and they’re all laughing instead of cheering? That’s right, show up on [Famous Author]’s doorstep, hotshot—she’ll either love you or hate you! And teaching? I mean seriously! Who the heck are you to think that you know anything that anyone wants to learn?

Well, you might be Katy Kellgren. Or you might be me. 

In the last few months, it seems like every time I check in on social media, another friend has made a movie deal. Or a TV deal. Or comic book. Or they’re writing for a property I would give my left arm to be part of. Or they sold foreign rights in twenty countries. Or they just shared a picture where some super famous performer is reading their book to his/her kids. 

We all reach an age at some point where everyone around us is getting married or having kids, right? Well, when you’re a writer, you reach the age where everyone around you is suddenly Announcing Big Deals. And YES I am happy for them. Immensely! And YES, I get that comparison is the thief of joy. My time will come! But when I posted the link to my online writing workshop for teens, that Impostor voice seeped through the cracks. 

Who are you? the Impostor said. Your bestselling book was published 12 years ago. No one remembers you. You haven’t walked a red carpet. No movie stars retweet your posts. Where’s your coloring book? Where’s your HBO series? No one wants to learn from a Nobody.

I could lie and tell you that voice wasn’t constantly in the back of my mind, poking at my ego with its malice. But I won’t. No, I heard that voice loud and clear. But you know what? I did it anyway. And not a ton of kids signed up, but that’s okay. Because SOME DID. 

Besides, I told myself, smaller groups are better. Fewer students to forgive me if I screw up, so less pressure for me to put on myself. I’ll feel more comfortable. Stretch my legs. Work the kinks out. 

By the end of the first online session (of four), I could feel the magic. I missed working with kids, yes, but more importantly, I had never worked with young writers before. And I don’t ever want to stop working with them for the rest of my life. You know how some teachers say that they feel “a calling”? I do believe I’ve found mine. 

AND HERE IS WHY:

—Writers are always asked “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” (When I asked Anne McCaffrey this, she said, “To have more sex while I’m young and beautiful.”) My answer is always: Write more. Never stop. And finish what you start. Now…until they invent the TARDIS, I can’t actually go back in time and tall my teenage self this. BUT I CAN TELL THEM. I can tell them all of that, and more!

—I was a teen writer. Would you believe that I actually forgot this would make a difference? I remember what it’s like to have parents who tell you to “major in something that will get you a real job.” I remember form letters from editors telling me never to use a pseudonym. I remember staring at that novel and KNOWING that I wasn’t old enough to write it. Knowing that I just didn’t have the experience yet to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Knowing that I had not known enough pain and hardship and broken hearts and death. I remember how the stories still wanted to be told, regardless, and how my friends wanted me to write them all, no matter what. 

—I had that Cinderella story. I peaked early, both as an actress and a writer. Of course, I didn’t know it at at the time—that’s the curse of peaking early in one’s career. You don’t know how to handle it until it’s too late. But if writing is what you want—if it’s what you really want—nothing will be able to stop you. In the meantime, you lean the hard way how to buckle down and teach yourself a work ethic. You watch friends come up from beneath you and rise above you in record time. Sometime they stay your friends. Sometimes they don’t. You begin to recognize which projects are wort spending time on…and which people, too. 

That last bit came directly out of all that vile nonsense the Impostor voice had been spewing. It made me laugh to think that all those reasons I was telling myself I had no business teaching young people was exactly the reason why I should be teaching….especially young people

It’s true. The Impostor never really goes away. But my teens will learn its tricks, and they will learn them far earlier than I did. AND THEN THEY WILL RULE THE WORLD. 

Want to know more about Alethea Kontis's upcoming classes? Follow her on social media (Twitter @AletheaKontis, Facebook @AletheaKontis) and check out her Eventbright profile here: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/alethea-kontis-16376673838

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New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea